China's commuter workers struggle under lockdowns

STORY: For Chinese commuter workers on the outskirts of Beijing, waking up in the early mornings to travel miles away for work has gotten even tougher than before.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 62-YEAR-OLD MIGRANT WORKER, LAO YUAN, SAYING:

"I cannot go back home. If you go back home, you’ll be quarantined."

Sixty-two year old Lao Yuan and many others like him rely on ease of travel to make a living, but China's strict zero-COVID policy has upended their lives completely.

Analysts at Nomura estimate nearly 350 million people in China are currently facing some form of lockdown, and movement between cities and provinces has been severely restricted.

Some workers haven't been able to go home, while others have struggled to find any work at all.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 60-YEAR-OLD UNIDENTIFIED VETERAN AND WORKER, SAYING:

"During the pandemic, there are very few jobs. It is hard to earn money. We don't earn enough and the city police chase us away."

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 55-YEAR-OLD CONSTRUCTION WORKER, MR. HE, SAYING:

"The pandemic situation changes quite fast. For example, yesterday Beijing was not rated as high risk, but in the morning when you wake up, the city has a star labelled next to it on the tracing app."

Towns like Yanjiao have seen explosive growth over the past decade, as hundreds of thousands of residents commuted to and from nearby Beijing on a daily basis before COVID.

But now many face difficult requirements just to earn a "commuter pass" allowing them to step foot inside the city.

(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 28-YEAR-OLD UNIDENTIFIED COMMUTER, SAYING:

"For the commuter pass, you'll need proof of employment, 48-hour COVID-19 test result, proof of residency and such... now people are saying it is not being issued anymore."

Beijing has started stepping up entry checks and locking down some public spaces, as it announced plans to test nearly all of its 22 million residents for COVID this week.

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